Washington Arts Center kicks off Somerville Toy Camera Festival

On August 14, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times
Ted Ollier, one of several “lo-fi” photographers exhibiting at the Washington Street Art Center show, proudly stands before his works on display. ~Photo by Douglas Yu

Ted Ollier, one of several “lo-fi” photographers exhibiting at the Washington Street Art Center show, proudly stands before his works on display. – Photo by Douglas Yu

By Douglas Yu

The last thing that many people expect from an exhibition might be the one that is filled with blurred and fuzzy pictures made by lo-fi cameras. Certain Somerville photographers disagree, however. In fact, they prove to people that toy cameras, or even cellphone cameras, can make art.

The Washington Street Art Center kicked off the opening of the first Somerville Toy Camera Festival on Saturday night. Photos taken by about 13 local photographers were displayed at the show.

“All the pictures were selected by the organizers,” said the director of The Nave Gallery and The Nave Gallery Annex, Susan Berstler. “The majority of the photographers are local, because there are a lot of people in Somerville who work with toy cameras.”

‘Willows’ by Lee Kirkpatrick.

‘Willows’ by Lee Kirkpatrick.

Non-professional photographers took the photos at the exhibition. It was the first time ever in the neighborhood that people appreciated visual arts defined by their low resolution.

Lee Kilpatrick, one of the photographers at the event, explained how lo-fi cameras create art. “It basically means low-fidelity,” Kilpatrick said. “These kind of cameras can’t control their exposure very well, so they automatically create a lot of fuzziness. People like these fuzzy pictures.”

Instead of using a 500-dollar DSLR camera, Kilpatrick’s photo The Willows was taken by a Mini Diana half-frame camera. The picture shows a house in Salem, lit by the sunshine near “golden hour.”

“Most of my pictures are about people. I called them candid photography,” Kilpatrick said. “The color is very rich, even though it’s a little blurred.”

Candid photos catch characters without posing, according to Kilpatrick. He said that toy cameras like Holga could not adjust the aperture and exposure very much, so parts of the pictures would be very dark.

Photos taken by cellphones also gained a lot of attention at the event, even though cellphone photos are generally looked down upon by artists.

“It turned out that many people who take pictures with film cameras are incensed by the cellphone, because they thought the cellphone was not really a toy camera.” Kilpatrick said.

‘Cell Flowers’ by Ted Ollier.

‘Cell Flowers’ by Ted Ollier.

Ted Ollier, one of the few cellphone photographers at the opening night, brought the excitement that people once felt about camera cellphones back. “These pictures’ pixels are really small. The original pictures were 1200 by 900 pixels.” Ollier said, showing his works, Cell Flowers and Cirrus. “My photos were taken by Nokia 6555 around 2005. This is one of the first camera cellphones.”

There will be more shows presented during August and September. The second exhibition contains more photos taken by people from outside of Somerville and other countries.

Alice Grossman, another photographer at the opening, suggested separate panels for toy cameras and cellphones. “They can be presented in different ways to get different opinions,” Grossman said.

One of the photographers, whose work has been finalized for the next exhibit, is a woman who did a series of portraits of American soldiers in Afghanistan. According to Berstler, it brings more serious subject to the show.

“This whole thing is very new to many people,” Berstler said. “I’ve got great responses and people are very excited about it. Next year, I expect the Toy Camera Festival to be larger and broader.”


‘Cirrus’ by Ted Ollier.

‘Cirrus’ by Ted Ollier.

Schedule of Exhibitions and Events
The Washington Street Art Center , 321 Washington Street, Somerville
Exhibit dates: Saturdays from August 10-31, 2013;  12-4 p.m.
The Nave Gallery, Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church 155 Powderhouse Blvd., Somerville
Exhibit dates: September 7-28, 2013
Opening reception: Friday, September 6, 6-9 p.m.
The Nave Gallery Annex, 53 Chester St.,Somerville
Exhibit dates: September 11-29, 2013
Opening reception: Wednesday, September 11, 6-9 p.m.

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